March 2019 Income Report

April 24 2019 – 12:14pm

This income report is available in audio for $15+ Patreon backers.

March’s revenues were $10,063.23, up from February’s $5,105.48. Profits were $6,432.08, up from February’s $2,782.83.

income report graph

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This is the first time I’ve publicly reported a $10,000+ month. The last time I had a $10k month was September 2015, when I earned $10,648.30 (cash-based). The closest I’ve come since I began public income reports at the beginning of 2018 was $9,910.71, which was also March. March of last year.

In the grand scheme, these spikes are relatively meaningless. A number of things simply happened to bring in money at the same time. I got a $2,679.27 royalty check for Design for Hackers, which was primarily made up of proceeds for a foreign-rights deal. D4H checks only come every six months, and foreign-rights deals are rare one-time events, so it’s not an indication of a particular trend.

I also ran a webinar in which I sold my beta online business product, Blog 2 BLING! I booked $3,547 from that webinar and email series. However, only $1,677.00 was reported in March. The rest is either sales that happened in the beginning of April, or monthly payments that will come in over the course of six months.

Another anomaly was that I did a little writing consulting work. A good opportunity to do a little work on a high-profile project came up, so I took it.

Done optimizing The Heart to Start

Another anomaly is on the expenses side. I had high advertising expenses from running tests to optimize The Heart to Start. I have now changed the subtitle and description, based upon my tests. I ran a number of tests on covers, using rough cover mockups, but I wasn’t able to find a cover that even looked like it had a good chance to beat the cover I already have.

I tested a very generic cover design, with bold lettering.

I tested a cover design inspired by the cover of The Artist’s Way.

I tried a generic self-help cover, based upon the cover of How to Win Friends & Influence People.

I tested a modern and vibrant cover design, with some psychological tricks in breaking up the words.

Some of these covers seemed to outperform the control by a little bit, to certain audiences. For example, the Artist’s Way-inspired cover had a 70% chance of beating the control, after spending about $30 on ads.

But there were no clear winners. Not at all like testing headlines to use as a subtitle, where you might see one headline outperform another by 100%. I could push it further if I was willing to spend a lot of money, but I’d ultimately maybe learn that one cover was performing 10% better than my control.

That might seem like a lot, but I’m not yet convinced that any of this optimization is translating to more sales, or that these efforts aren’t better allocated to creating other things.

Description optimization

My methodology for testing the description was to change it periodically, then watch the conversion rate on ad clicks, as reported in Prestozon.

I chose a “hook” to try based upon Facebook ads that I ran, each with a few lines on them. The data was all over the place from these tests.

On tests I ran to people who liked The War of Art, the top performing variant was something I called “two people.”

You are two people.

The person you are today, and the person you’re destined to become.

Are you a writer? A rock star? A world-famous chef? An artist?

You feel it every day. That feeling that you have something special to offer the world. Something uniquely yours.

But no matter how many times Nike tells you to “just do it,” you keep putting it off.

However, on tests I ran to people who liked The Artist’s Way, the data told a different story. To this audience, the top performing hook was something I called “terrible feeling:”

It’s a terrible feeling.

To know that you have a gift for the world. But to be paralyzed every time you try to discover what that gift is.

No matter who you are, you are the only one who really has that gift. If you don’t make it a reality, the world will be worse off.

Yet you keep putting it off.

“Terrible feeling” performed more than twice as well as “two people” did to this audience. Yet “terrible feeling” performed terribly with the WoA audience. No clicks at all.

The whole “have a gift for the world” language might have been too flowery for the tough-minded WoA audience, so I tried toning it down with a variant I called “terrible feeling something.” Basically the same thing, but more vague language instead of “gift”:

…To know you have something to offer, but to be utterly stuck. To be too paralyzed to make your vision a reality.

This performed a little better with the WoA audience, but wasn’t a huge hit.

All of the ambiguity is enough to drive you crazy. Still, I didn’t have a lot of data for any of these, and I had spent about $100 between the two of them. The WoA audience was slow going in collecting data.

Do hooks work in nonfiction book descriptions?

I can’t say that I got conclusive results that I was confident in. I began to question the whole idea of a “hook” for a description for a nonfiction book. You already got the reader’s attention with the title/subtitle and cover. Following AIDA (Attention > Interest > Desire > Action), the next step would be to build Interest, or a statement that clearly states the benefit.

Still, I did put together a description and test it against the control. Since there’s more ad traffic for searches on The Artist’s Way, I decided to go with what performed well for that audience: “terrible feeling.”

My description optimization results

On March 17–21st, my “control” description had: 162 clicks, 9 orders, 5.56%

From March 23–27th I ran a variation that started with “terrible feeling”: 226 clicks, 17 orders, 7.52%

According to the Bayesian calculator, “terrible feeling” had a 77% chance of winning. Promising, but not certain.

Next, I tried adding “social proof,” or editorial reviews and blurbs, to the top of “terrible feeling” – just like on my control. From March 29–April 3 “social proof + terrible feeling” had: 272 clicks, 14 orders, 5.15%

Now the Bayesian calculator showed the option without social proof with an 87% chance of winning. Again, not a blowout.

What if it just took a short dose of social proof at the beginning, and then I closed with the rest of the social proof? From April 5–10th “short review + terrible feeling + more social proof” had 257 clicks, 10 orders, 3.9%

“Terrible feeling” had a 96% chance of beating that variant.

So now, I’m back at “terrible feeling.” From April 12–17th, there’s 258 clicks, 16 orders, 6.20%

The original use of “terrible feeling” has a 72% chance of beating itself!

Ultimately, it’s hard to conclude a winner here. Data collection on this is hard, too. Sometimes a sale doesn’t get reported for two weeks, which means my latest data is almost certainly not right. And maybe six days isn’t long enough to compensate for variations.

It seems that if you really wanted to test reliably, you would need a lot of time, and to alternate between versions over and over again to get rid of any noise.

Applying what I’ve learned and moving on from optimization

After trying it for a couple of months, I’m taking a break from book optimization. I put a lot of time and money into it, and my conclusion is that I’m better off moving forward and making new stuff.

I am, however, happy with the new subtitle of “Stop Procrastinating & Start Creating.” In the month after changing the subtitle, there were 75 sales on 1,205 clicks, for a CVR of 6.22% (with plenty of time for all sales to report). In the month before the change, there were 28 sales on 615 clicks for a CVR of 4.55%. According to those numbers, the new subtitle has a 97% chance of beating the control.

I’ve since changed the opening credits and cover on the audiobook. Unfortunately, Amazon won’t allow me to change the subtitle on the paperback without making an entirely new edition, which would require a new ISBN. It’s really bullshit, because Bowker – who distributes ISBNs – doesn’t require a new ISBN for a mere subtitle change. I’ll leave it as it is for now.

I’m done with optimizing for now. I learned a little bit about what works, and I learned a lot about how hard it is to really find a lift. I learned enough to shut off that part of my brain for awhile. I can use the extra energy toward making new things.

Jodan Harbinger interview was a dud

In January, I made some projections about how many book sales I would generate from my Jordan Harbinger Show appearance. I can’t evaluate those projections, because it turns out my interview is not going to go live at all.

When I did the interview, I was told it would go live in late March. When I checked in with the producer in early April, he informed me that my interview didn’t pass their standards, and wouldn’t be published.

It’s very painful to have this interview not go live. I was excited about it, I worked extremely hard on preparing for it, and I think it had an important message that was going to help a lot of people.

A big investment, and a big failure

I spent six weeks working on the pitch. After my pitch was accepted, I spent many months essentially producing the episode. I fleshed out an outline, and was sure to have examples and stories ready to go to illustrate the concepts.

After about nine months of total preparation, I flew from Colombia to San Francisco to do the interview. I also had to take a very expensive emergency Uber ride from San Francisco to San Jose to show up for the interview, because of a scheduling error on the part of Jordan’s staff. (I also made my own scheduling error, which they gracefully accommodated.)

Learning from defeat

All of that investment adds to the sting. It tempts me to be angry at Jordan and the show, or to take it as a personal affront, but that’s the wrong way. They’re one of the top podcasts, and it’s not by accident. It’s not as if they want the work they put into the episode to go to waste. Sponsors are lined up to buy spots for every episode. If it was ultimately a good fit for them, they would clearly run the episode.

I have to accept that my episode was not good enough. Or at least not good enough on the dimensions that are important to them. I thought the episode was very good, and I executed the outline we had agreed upon almost perfectly. So part of the problem may be that we have different ideas about what is good.

Ironically, the crux of what I was talking about was that the common advice of “just do it” is flawed, because there is a survivorship bias in entrepreneurial advice. We get advice from successful people, and those successful people mostly didn’t struggle psychologically with getting started. Additionally, those successful people have no idea what it’s like to obsessively fantasize about following a dream, only to be hopelessly paralyzed every time you try to follow it. It’s like a bunch of happy people telling a bunch of depressed people to “just stop being depressed.” This episode not going live in some way proves my point.

What went wrong?

I couldn’t get much specific feedback on how, exactly, the episode fell short. The only thing I got was an indication that the producer thought I hadn’t yet developed enough confidence in talking about my ideas. It would make sense if this were the problem, since the subject matter itself was agreed on ahead of time and wasn’t a surprise.

I suppose the fatal flaw may have been the technique that gave me the honor of being invited in the first place. Instead of pitching an outline based upon my book, The Heart to Start, I made a custom episode outline, based upon what I thought would be good for the show and audience.

This made it a lot of extra work, because I practically wrote a whole other book in the process of preparing. But it also may have affected my confidence. Maybe ideas you truly believe shouldn’t require such obsessive preparation, or maybe that obsessive preparation caused me to sound inauthentic in my delivery of the ideas.

Let’s be real

It reminds me of the difference between my writing voice when I’m trying to impress someone from the traditional publishing world, versus my writing voice when I’m self publishing. When I do the former, it feels fake, isn’t fun, and sounds unnatural. When I do the latter, it feels resonant, is fun, and sounds natural. Not that writing entirely naturally is necessarily objectively better. You can learn something by trying to craft your message to fit certain tastes. There’s a middle way that I’m always searching for.

I don’t mean to sound bitter or confrontational in writing about this publicly. I simply want to be open about the realities of what it’s like to be someone trying to build a platform for their ideas. While we’re no longer limited to a few huge gatekeepers in the world, there are now thousands of smaller gatekeepers. The good ones have stringent filters for deciding what they’ll promote. If they’re going to risk their business by promoting someone of lower status, that person better be damn good.

I also want to show that sometimes you engineer what seems like a brilliant rifle shot, it slips past the obstacles toward the target, and at the last moment the bullet gets stuck in a tree trunk. Sometimes you have a positive Black Swan, such as Seth Godin endorsing your book. Other times, you have a negative Black Swan, which is what I would categorize this as.

What I gained and what I didn’t lose

It’s not like I get nothing from this experience. I gained experience in making a pitch to a huge outlet, and in preparing an appearance on such an outlet. I gained experience in traveling for media purposes. Jordan’s team made it sound like the door was still open to try again in the future. But the failures currently make me hesitant to invest in trying something like this again anytime soon. But the next time I do them, I’ll be better at it.

Or maybe I’ll decide that this is the type of game I don’t want to play. Maybe there are better ways to get enough people to hear my message that I make enough money to keep exploring. Painful events like this shape your thinking. I can feel my brain rearchitecting its strategy, but it will take time for that new way of thinking to become clear. Maybe it will be to go at this or similar opportunities again with learning under my belt, or maybe it will be to find other methods.

Fortunately, the financial investment in the travel was dampened by the points I’ve earned with my advertising credit card. The whole point of having such a card was to be able to invest in trips like this for less money, since it’s an as-of-yet unproven way for me to market my work.

New Newsletter: Love Mondays

I launched a new newsletter called Love Mondays. It’s a two-minute read each Monday to help cultivate the mindset to “make it” as a creator. I get my material from my conversations on Love Your Work, as well as from my more than 11,000 highlights I’ve collected in my reading.

I decided back in December to try creating a regular newsletter. I have learned so much in running my podcast about the value about having a repeatable creative process. It frees up your mind to do more work, and you can be creative within the constraints. The repetition allows you to continuously improve your process, so you keep making better work with less pain.

I began testing out the concept by sending emails of this format to my list. At first I was going to call it “Friday Night Highlights,” but that seemed too constraining. Also, in my mind, Tim Ferriss owns people’s inboxes on Fridays with “Five Bullet Fridays.” Paul Jarvis comes to mind on Sundays with his “Sunday Dispatches.”

Love Mondays ties into Love Your Work, so that felt about right. I have some second thoughts about it – the name alone hasn’t been enough to stir up much interest aside from the existing list. But, I’ll just keep putting out content.

How I developed Love Mondays

I sent out a total of nineteen “pilot” emails before officially calling it Love Mondays. I got to experiment with my process for creating and scheduling these emails. Basically, I take the winners from the highlights I share on Twitter, or things people highlight heavily in my Medium articles, and I expand on those concepts. I really have a painless and sustainable process that I believe makes for some great content. I’m really proud of what I’ve put out there, and I’m excited to see what happens.

BookBub Rejection Again

After changing the subtitle of HTS and “optimizing” the cover and description, I submitted again for a BookBub featured deal in the US, and it was rejected. It didn’t hurt this time, as that was the expected outcome. This is rejection four I believe? I don’t know. I’ll keep trying.

Passive Genius manifesto

The creative productivity book I’ve been working on since I finished D4H eight years ago is chugging along. I wrote a 15,000-word manifesto that I’m sharing with some of my most trusted advisors.

I call it the “passive genius” manifesto. Passive genius is your mind’s incredible ability to do its best thinking when you aren’t actively thinking. How can you harness that phenomenon to get your creative work out into the world with less pain? You do it by managing creative energy as a resource, and by switching from a time management world to a mind management world.

From manifesto to book, course – or what?

The manifesto is mostly written for myself. It’s the expression of what I believe to be true, without reasoning away the scientific support, or using supporting anecdotes. It’s a milestone along the way toward a book.

Yet I’m not sure when it will become a book. I’m doing some exploring around starting with a course. I’d like to teach this methodology to some people to make it a little more bulletproof.

The main sticking point is that the manifesto is visionary and aspirational. It presents a perfect vision of operating in a mind management modality. Most people don’t have the freedom to switch to this modality, but I believe that over time more and more of us will.

So I’m currently trying to balance an aspirational and perhaps impractical vision with making the information accessible. It will probably more of the former, but I don’t want to discount the value of the latter.

I’m also wrestling with who it’s for: Do I make it for writers, do I make it for creators in general, or do I make it for the public at large? I think these principles can help anyone, but they may be too esoteric to “cross the chasm,” so to speak. Maybe, like The War of Art, I’ll make it for writers, and trust that it will eventually spread beyond that audience.

Long-term vision gelling

I have newfound energy to pursue my creative work. I spent so much time and effort on that podcast appearance, and the pain of having it blow up in my face is directing me toward doubling down on what I have. Additionally, I can stop second-guessing whether I’m missing out on some magical revenue that would be unlocked with a little optimization.

I’ve been spending a lot of time thinking about how to make my work more cohesive. It’s a long process, and I started focusing on it back in December – which resulted in Love Mondays. I’ve heard the advice of “look at who has what you want, and copy them.” I’ve always struggled with that advice, because I rarely see someone who has exactly what I want.

Toward a Mark Manson-like model

I think the closest person to having what I want is Mark Manson. He has a dedicated website where people consume his content. They can get premium content, including his entire library of courses, for only $6 a month. Oh, and he also has a book that sold two million copies.

General self help has a wider market than what I’m going for, but I like Mark’s model. My experience would be more applicable to business and making money, and the membership fee would be higher. I don’t have the resources or fortitude to suddenly transform my business to look like his, so I’m trying to find the intermediate steps that can get me toward something like his model.

I have a decent Patreon backing, and I have a small library of premium content for top backers. I’m digging into my archive to add to that library. I’m facepalming over how much good content I have locked away where nobody can buy it.

I’m again warming up to the idea of selling courses. I have the confidence that I can put a book out into the world, so I can feel comfortable in developing a course on the way toward that book. I also realize that Blog 2 BLING! is a valuable and helpful course – albeit in need of a renaming.

First principles of a creative business

If I could start a creative business from scratch, it would have these characteristics: Recurring revenue, repeatable processes, and earn money up-front for your work while building assets that make passive revenue in the long term. I’m trying to inch back toward those principles.

For now, I want to build up my Patreon backing and make it more of a valuable membership experience. I want to get some more courses out there, and perhaps include my existing courses into an existing experience – such as on Teachable. My conversation with Andrew Warner also inspired me to charge for archive episodes of my podcast, so I’m exploring how I might do that.

It’s not all in one experience. Maybe it doesn’t need to be. Maybe it will be someday, and that switch will probably be a painful one. For now, I need to remind myself to stop seeking approval from gatekeepers and do the best work I can do for the people who want it and who will pay for it.

Income

Book Sales

Design for Hackers (all formats) $2,679.27
The Heart to Start Kindle $807.86
The Heart to Start Paperback (Amazon) $493.23
The Heart to Start “Wide” (non-Amazon) $99.10
The Heart to Start Audiobook $83.24
How to Write a Book Kindle $275.44
How to Write a Book Paperback $245.33
How to Write a Book Audible $53.10
How to Write a Book Spanish Kindle $7.66
How to Write a Book Spanish Paperback $2.64
Make Money Writing on the STEEM Blockchain Kindle $19.15
Make Money Writing on the STEEM Blockchain Paperback $1.85
Make Money Writing on the STEEM Blockchain Audible $3.03
Total Book Sales $4,770.90

Digital Products

Summer of Design $11.00
D4H Video $58.00
White Hot Course $39.00
Blog 2 BLING! (Beta) $1,677.00
Total Digital Products $1,785.00

Affiliates / Advertising

Active Campaign $993.90
Amazon $128.34
ConvertKit $70.80
Hostgator $100.00
SendOwl $6.00
Total Affiliates $1,299.04

Love Your Work Podcast

Patreon $636.91
PayPal Donations $5.00
Sponsors $70.00
Total LYW Podcast $711.91

Writing

Medium $96.38
Consulting $1,400.00
Total Writing $1,496.38
GROSS INCOME $10,063.23

Expenses

General

Accounting $1,085.00
Coworking Space $73.32
Outside Contractors $217.59
Podcast Editing / Publishing $240.00
Misc. Software $10.43
Total General $1,626.34

Advertising

Amazon $1,287.62
BookBub $426.43
Facebook $155.72
Prestozon $80.00
Total Advertising $1,949.77

Hosting

Genius Link $10.00
Libsyn $20.00
Namecheap $25.04
Total Hosting $55.04
TOTAL EXPENSES $3,631.15
NET PROFIT $6,432.08

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This post is filed under Income Reports.